Common name: Cayenne
Other names: African bird pepper, Guinea spice, cow-horn pepper, red hot chili pepper, aleva
Latin name: Capsicum minimum
Affinities: Circulatory system, digestive system, muscleoskeletal system
Actions: Circulatory and digestive stimulant, carminative, sialagogue, rubefacient, antiseptic, stomachic, alterative, astringent, antispasmodic, emetic, antirheumatic
Specific indications: Poor circulation, cold hands and feet, weak digestive power, indigestion
Diseases: (Internally) Functional dyspepsia(1), asthma(3), arthritis(3), colic(3), flatulent dyspepsia(3), chilblains(3), heart troubles(3), high blood pressure(3)/ (Topically) neuralgia(1)
Parts used: Fruit
Energetics: Warming, drying
Characteristics: Capsicum is a genus of dicotyledonous flowering plants which is widely referred to as ‘chilli pepper’, ‘hot red pepper’, ‘paprika’, and ‘cayenne’ (Basu et al., 2003). Different species of the capsicum genus are all members of the Solanaceae or night shade family which includes tomatoes. The species is native to central America from South Mexico extending into Columbia.
History: Capsicum members have an ancient history of medicinal use because they are found in the classic text in the Tibetan medical tradition, The Blue Beryll (Basu et al., 2003). In this text, it is written, ‘Capsicum increases digestive warmth of the stomach, and is the supreme medication for the alleviation of oedemata, haemorrhoids, leprosy, and wind’. Another passage later states to ‘alleviate diseases of phlegm and prolong the lifespan: Capsicum mixed with butter and honey’. Notably, the spice known as the cayenne pepper has another Tibetan name, gYer-ma, and is generally use to treat ‘wind disorders’.
In pre-hispanic medicine the chilli peppers were used to treat a wide range of medical conditions including; gastro-intestinal disorders (infections, diarrhoea), coughs, and lack of appetite. Cayenne was used first in Western medicine by Samuel Thomson (1769-1843) as a warming circulatory and digestive stimulant (Wood, 1997). Similarly, Wooster Beach (1794-1868), who was the founder of Eclectic medicine, found cayenne useful to ‘equalize the circulation’ and so in treating disorders related to poor circulation and heart problems.
Current applications: Dr. John R Christopher lists cayenne in his classic text, The School of Natural Healing, as a (circulatory) stimulant alongside ginger, lobelia, cloves, black pepper, peppermint, prickly ash, snake root, and horseradish (Christopher, 1976). He used cayenne widely in his formulas and describes it as, ‘the purest and most certain stimulant’. He mentioned cayenne is a great food for the circulatory system in that it feeds the necessary elements into the cell structure of the arteries, veins and capillaries so that these regain the elasticity of youth again, and the blood pressure adjusts itself to normal. He also found it an important remedy for the digestive system, mentioning that cayenne rebuilds the tissue in the stomach and heals stomach and intestinal ulcers; in equalizing the blood circulation, cayenne produces natural warmth; and in stimulating the peristaltic motion of the intestines, it aids in assimilation and elimination.
David Hoffman in his text, Holistic Herbal, mentions that cayenne is the most useful of the systemic stimulants. It regulates the blood flow, equalising and strengthening the heart, arteries, capillaries, and nerves (Hoffman, 1988). He mentions it is a tonic for the circulatory and digestive system and it may be useful in treating, flatulent dyspepsia, colic, cold hands and feet, chilblains, rheumatic pains.
Science: The pungent flavour of chillies is due to the capsaicinoids, of these, capsaicin is the active component that is at least partially responsible for the pharmaceutical properties of chillies (Sanatombi and Sharma, 2008). Capsaicin has been successfully demonstrated to be a topical analgesic against neuropathic pain in humans (McCleane, 2000). Additionally, anti-inflammatory properties of capsaicin have been observed in animals (Jolayemi et al., 2013).
A human double blind placebo controlled clinical study found significant improvements using chilli powder against functional dyspepsia including lower epigastric pain, fullness, and nausea scores (Bortolotti et al., 2002). This finding confirms some of the traditional use of cayenne as a digestive tonic.
Safety: Cayenne is very safe as long as not used in excess. In excess, the heat may actually be quite damaging to the body.
Dosage: 5-30 drops of tincture 2-4 times daily. An infusion can be also be made by pouring a cup of boiling water onto ½-1 tea spoon of cayenne, then left for 10 minutes, this may be drank 3 times daily (Hoffman, 1988).
Research on models
Anti-inflammatory: In one study using animal models, it was found capsaicin has both analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties (Jolayemi et al., 2013).
Research on humans
Neuropathic pain: One study (n = 200, double blind placebo controlled) found that capsaicin applied in a cream resulted in a similar level of analgesia to the drug doxepin in patients with chronic neuropathic pain (McCleane et al., 2000).
Functional dyspepsia: A study (n = 30, double blind placebo controlled) found that treating patients with functional dyspepsia with 2.5 g/day of red pepper powder for 5 weeks improved symptoms (Bortolotti et al., 2002). Symptom score, epigastric pain, fullness, and nausea scores were significantly lower in the treatment than those of the placebo group.
Basu, Saikat Kumar, Amit Krishna De, and A. De. “Capsicum: historical and botanical perspectives.” Capsicum: the genus Capsicum 33 (2003): 1-15.
Bortolotti, M., et al. “The treatment of functional dyspepsia with red pepper.” Alimentary pharmacology & therapeutics 16.6 (2002): 1075-1082.
Christopher, John R. School of Natural Healing. Christopher Publications, 1976.
Hoffman, David. Holistic herbal. Element Books, 1988.
Jolayemi, A. T., and J. A. O. Ojewole. “Comparative anti-inflammatory properties of Capsaicin and ethylaAcetate extract of Capsicum frutescens linn [Solanaceae] in rats.” African health sciences 13.2 (2013): 357-361.
McCleane, Gary. “Topical application of doxepin hydrochloride, capsaicin and a combination of both produces analgesia in chronic human neuropathic pain: a randomized, double‐blind, placebo‐controlled study.” British journal of clinical pharmacology 49.6 (2000): 574-579.
Sanatombi, K., and G. J. Sharma. “Capsaicin content and pungency of different Capsicum spp. cultivars.” Notulae Botanicae Horti Agrobotanici Cluj-Napoca 36.2 (2008): 89.
Wood, Matthew. The book of herbal wisdom: Using plants as medicine. North Atlantic Books, 1997.